11. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
11. Et renuerent attendere, et posuerunt humerum declinationis, et aures suas aggravarunt ne audirent.
12. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant-stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.
12. Et cor suum posuerunt adamantem, ne audirent verba quae miserat Iehova exercituum in Spiritu suo, in manu prophetarum superiorum; et fuit ira magna a Iehova exercituum.
The Prophet here by referring to the fathers more sharply reproves the Jews of his age; for he saw that they differed but little from their fathers. The sum of what he says is, that the Jews in all ages dealt unfaithfully and perversely with God; for how much soever they boasted of their care and zeal for religion they yet sought to satisfy God only by vain trifles. This then was the Prophet's object. For it is certain that there ever had been some pretense to religion in that nation but it was mere dissimulation for they were in the mean time intent on their ceremonies and when God seriously remonstrated with them their obstinacy and perverseness before concealed instantly appeared.
He therefore says that they refused to hear. He does not now accuse the dead except for this purpose to teach the people of his acre. He saw that they were solicitous about fasting at appointed seasons, while at the same time they regarded almost as nothing the main requirements of the law, even mercy, and justice, and uprightness. These are indeed the three things, which Christ mentions. (Matthew 23:23.) He then intimates that this doctrine was not new, and that their fathers had been sufficiently warned and instructed, but that they wilfully, and as it were designedly rebelled against God. In short, he pulls off their mask of ignorance; for as men for the most part seek to extenuate their sins by the plea, that they had not been clearly or seasonably taught, the Prophet declares that there was not any excuse of this kind, because they had been refractory and untameable, they had refused to hear
To set forth more fully this perverseness, he afterwards says, that the shoulder of withdrawing had been presented by them. The Hebrews say that men serve with the shoulder, when they are submissive, and tractable, and willingly undergo the burden laid on them, according to what we have seen in Zephaniah 3:1. The Prophet now, on the contrary, says that the Jews had a refractory shoulder, as they refused to bear the yoke, but shook off every fear of God. The reason for the metaphor is this -- that as burdens are carried on the shoulder, so the Lord lays the law on our shoulders, that the flesh may not lasciviate at pleasure, but be kept under restraint. He hence says, that they had presented a rebellious shoulder. The word srrt, sarret, is properly rendered declining; but some render it perverse, and others contumacious: since the meaning is the same, I contend not about the word. It is enough to know that the contumacy of the Jews is what is here condemned; for they had been wholly unteachable, and had refused to submit to God and to his word.
He afterwards mentions their ears, They made heavy their ears, lest they should hear. In short, the Prophet sought by all means to prove the Jews guilty, that they might not adduce anything to extenuate their sin: for they had in every way, with the most determined wickedness, refused to obey God, when his teaching was sufficiently clear and intelligible.
He then comes to the heart, They made, he says, their heart adamant, or the very hardest stone. Some render it steel, and others flint. It means sometimes a thorn; but in this place, as in Ezekiel 3:9, and in Jeremiah 17:1, it is to be taken for adamant, or the hardest stone. We now see that the Prophet's object was to show that the Jews had no excuse, as if they had fallen away through error or ignorance, but had ever wilfully and perversely rejected sound doctrine. The Prophet then teaches us that hypocrisy had been the sole hindrance to prevent them from understanding and following what was right.
But it may be useful to notice the manner of speaking which the Prophet adopts in condemning the perverseness of the Jews, when he says, that they had refused attention to God. For we ought here to observe the connection between the fear of God and obedience, and on the other hand, between the contempt of the law and wilful rebellion. If then we would not be condemned for contumacy before God, attention must in the first place be given to his word, and afterwards the shoulders must be put under, so that we may bear submissively the yoke laid on us; and thirdly, we must listen with the ears, so that the word of God, preached to us, may not be lost, but strike in us deep roots; and lastly, our hearts must be turned to obedience, and all hardness corrected or softened. Then Zechariah adds, that the Jews had a stonily or an iron heart, so that they repudiated the law of God and all his Prophets. He gives the first place to the law, for they ought to have sought from it the whole doctrine of religion; and the Prophets, as it has been often stated, were only interpreters of the law.
He afterwards mentions the words which had been sent by Jehovah through his Spirit and through his Prophets By saying that God spoke by his Prophets, he meets an objection by which hypocrites are wont to cover themselves, when they reject the truth. For they object and say, that they would be willingly submissive to God, but that they cannot bear the authority of men, as though God's word changed its nature by coming through the mouth of man. But as hypocrites and profane men are wont to lessen the authority of the word, the Prophet here shows, having this pretext in view, that God designed to be heard, though he employed ministers. Hence by this kind of concession it is implied, that Prophets are middle persons, and yet that God so speaks by their mouth, that contempt is offered to him when no due honor is shown to the truth. And further, lest the baseness of men should withhold regard from the word, he mentions also the Spirit, as though he had said, that God had spoken not only by his servants, even mortal men, but also by his Spirit. There is then no reason for hypocrites deceitfully to excuse themselves, by saying, that they rebel not against God, when they depreciate his Prophets; for the power and majesty of the Holy Spirit appear and shine forth in the doctrine itself, so that the condition of men takes nothing away from its authority. This part was also added in order to condemn the Jews, because they had from the very beginning been seasonably warned, and it was only their own fault that they did not repent. For if the Lord had allowed them for a long time to go astray, there would have been some pretense for their evasions: but since God had tried to recall them to the right way, and Prophets, one after another, had been continually sent to them, their unfaithfulness, yea their iron perverseness, in obstinately refusing to obey God, was more fully discovered. This is the reason why Zechariah mentions here the former Prophets.
He then adds, that there was great wrath from Jehovah of hosts; by which sentence he reminded them, that it was no matter of dispute, as in case of a doubtful thing, whether their fathers had been wicked and disobedient to God; for he had sufficiently proved be punishments that he abominated their conduct; for this principle is to be held true that God does not deal unjustly with men when he chastises them, but that the demerit of crimes is to be estimated by the punishment which he inflicts. As then God had so severely chastised the ancient people, the natural conclusion is, that their wickedness had become intolerable. We now then see why the Prophet said that there had been great wrath from God; the reason was, that the Jews might not think that he had been lightly offended, as he had not been satisfied with a moderate punishment; for since his wrath had been so great, and since he had in so dreadful a manner punished the sins of the people, it follows, that their wickedness had been more grievous than what men considered it to have been.
There is also here an implied comparison; for the unfaithfulness of those who then lived was the worse, for this reason -- because they took no warning from the calamities of their fathers, so as to deal with more sincerity with God. They knew that their fathers had been carefully and in various ways admonished; they knew that exile followed, which was an evidence of the dreadful vengeance of God. As then they were like their fathers, and had not put off their perverse disposition, they proved themselves guilty of greater and more refractory baseness, for they ought to have been influenced at least by fear, when they saw that God's judgment had been so dreadful against obstinate men. It afterwards follows --